Zeke Thurston overjoyed after winning the Stampede last year. (CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/CALGARY STAMPEDE)

Zeke Thurston overjoyed after winning the Stampede last year. (CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/CALGARY STAMPEDE)

Big Valley’s Zeke Thurston could make history at Calgary Stampede

Three Central Alberta contests on the draw so far for stampede

Zeke Thurston is well aware that he could make history on two fronts over the next two weeks at the Calgary Stampede.

Starting Friday, the Big Valley saddle bronc rider will set out do to something no other contestant has ever done at the stampede – win four consecutive titles and become only the second saddle bronc rider to win four titles, something that has not happened in 53 years.

“All you can do is take care of business, ride your bronc the best you can and the rest will fall into place,” said Thurston.

“It’s a pretty cool feeling winning that four round ride for $100,000. Gets your blood pumping pretty good.”

The 23-year-old is chasing down the record of saddle bronc rider Marty Wood, of Calgary, who won five titles in 1954, 1957, 1961, 1964 and 1965.

Thurston won in his first appearance at the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth in 2015, repeated in 2016 and took the title for the third time last year.

Thurston said it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what has made him so successful in Calgary whether it is the atmosphere, the hometown support or the big-time pressure that helps him elevate his ability.

“I like the rodeo and the atmosphere. We’ve been rodeoing pretty hard usually and to just go there and spend a week in one spot and not have to drive anywhere – your family comes out and you get to spend time with them,” he said.

“They get contestants from all over the world coming and competing. To be a couple hours from Calgary, it’s pretty much in my backyard. I do feel the crowd really gets behind me and they really support the local Canadian boy.”

While the young cowboy is modest about his success this season, he’s also tearing it up in the Canadian standings.

Thurston has won eight times in 2018, including at the Innisfail Pro Rodeo in June. His earnings so far this year are up to $17,392.40, more than $5,000 ahead of the second best saddle bronc rider.

He believes he’s got more to offer over the next few weeks in what is known as ‘Cowboy Christmas’. The late days of June and most of July provide cowboys and cowgirls the opportunity to make a real name for themselves and cash in some big cheques along the way too.

“It’s been going really good. I’m healthy and I’m feeling pretty confident. It’s nice this time of year, we get pretty busy,” he said, adding he’s only won $3,000 during Cowboy Christmas this year.

“Just carry on and roll on. I’m a big advocate of keeping things simple and sticking to the basics. Just don’t blow it up bigger than it is. That’s my approach to it and it seems to work these last few years.”

Thurston is one of three Central Alberta rodeo main draw contestants, including barrel racer Diane Skocdopole (Big Valley) and bull rider Zane Lambert (Ponoka).

Only 26 Canadians are among the competitors at the 2018 Calgary Stampede.

The 10 days of rodeo competition start on July 6, with a wildcard performance July 14 and Showdown Sunday July 15.

Email sports tips to Byron Hackett

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